According to a new survey of 884 directors of public companies, 10 percent of current board members think the ideal number of women on a corporate board is somewhere between 20 percent of the board and zero. Zero! One in 10 directors mulled over the prospect of sharing a conference table with women and thought, “I could tolerate zero women, or maybe a very tiny proportion of women, but that is absolutely it.”
The head of PwC’s Governance Insights Center, which conducted the survey, told Fortune that the not-unpopular desire for a board with as few women as possible is largely attributable to the old-school men who populate most corporate boards and, thus, the survey base. The average age of a board member of a major U.S. company is 63 and rising, and 83 percent of PwC’s survey participants are men.
Just as disconcerting as the 10 percent in the “few to no women, please” club is the 43 percent of participants who said the “optimal” share of women on a corporate board is 21 to 40 percent. (Women currently occupy 20 percent of S&P 500 companies’ board seats.) This means that more than half of all board members think women deserve significantly fewer than half the seats on corporate boards. Since women make up more than half of the world’s population, this suggests that more than half of current board members think women are inherently less capable of serving in corporate leadership positions. Another 43 percent said women should occupy 41 to 50 percent of board seats; only 5 percent thought the “optimal” proportion of women was greater than 50 percent.